How to Get 40,000 Readers Without Guest Blogging

This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti.

“It can’t be!”

Ah, but it’s true!

Not only that, this new blog isn’t about marketing, blogging, or making money online!

Refreshing, isn’t it?

Only a few months ago, I started my recent project, an electronic music blog by the name of Sophistefunk.

Before I get into the details, let’s get with the goods:

Above is my most recent screenshot from Google Analytics, and as you can see, I’ve hit over 40000 unique visitors after only being live for a few short months.

And I did it without a single guest post about this blog!

But how?

Well, that’s what I’m here today to tell you!

If you are looking for some sort of secret sauce, look elsewhere, but if you want to see some smart implementation of direct-to-success techniques that you can use in any niche, read on, this post is for you.

But first, let me address why I didn’t use guest posting for this new blog…

Seriously, Why No Guest Posts?

When it comes to guest blogging, I will give myself a pat on the back and say that I’m fairly experienced in the process: I’ve used it to grow almost every blog I’ve ever started/worked with.

Almost.

What they don’t tell you in the blogging world very often is that sometimes, guest posting is not always a viable option depending on the niche that you are in.

Sure, there are always ways to post about your blog (no matter the topic) on “blogging about blogging” sites (only a small fraction of which contain any useful info, luckily Kikolani is part of that small fraction).

The thing is, these types of visitors aren’t always ideal: their main interest is in blogging, not necessarily the topic that your blog is about.

I really encountered this problem with my electronic music blog: music blogs almost NEVER accept guest posts, why should they?

Most posts on a music site are going to be media focused (videos & audio) and are relatively short, there’s no need to bring in another author.

So, for all of the support that guest blogging gets (and rightfully so), when it comes to a niche where you can’t realistically use it as a traffic generating method in a consistent manner, what is a blogger to do? Totally give up on the niche?

NO!

Where there is a will, or more specifically, a will to do some legwork, there is a way.

What Guest Blogging is Really About…

As great as guest blogging can be for direct traffic, building awareness, and indirect traffic in terms of backlinking & SEO, the real benefit behind guest blogging is that is allows you to build relationships with people influential in your niche.

In reality, providing a ton of value with a great guest post can go a lot farther than a handful of new visitors to your site: by providing value to an author of a popular blog, you plant the seeds to build a relationship which can result in this author doing a lot more for you than just accepting your post.

In my interview with Leo of the BufferApp, Leo stated that he believes one of the most powerful aspects of guest blogging is that it typically leads to reciprocation between the guest post submitter and the blog’s author.

That is, if you provide a ton of value to another blogger with a guest post, they will often reciprocate by checking out your content, and if they like what they see, they’ll share it with their followers not because they feel indebted, but because they want to share awesome content.

These types of relationships are absolutely essential if you want to build a popular blog in a target niche, and guest blogging is really only a means to that end, rather than the actual end itself.

So I knew I could succeed in the end goal of building relationships, the only thing I was really lacking was the use of guest blogging to serve as the “ice-breaker” to the influential people in my niche.

Then it hit me.

What if, this time around, other bloggers were NOT the most influential people in my topic?

How To Build Relationships

I began to realize that in my niche, it was actually the musicians who were the most influential in terms of having large followings and receptive audiences: music blogs are a dime a dozen, so building relationships with artists was a surefire way for me to stand out.

I began to realize that I didn’t need guest blogging in this circumstance, and my findings lead me to 3 main points which I’m going to discuss with you today:

  1. Why email is the greatest “social network” of all
  2. Sometimes it’s best to network with those around you, rather than those “above” you
  3. Social media, when used correctly, helps small ideas blossom into bigger projects

All 3 of these techniques played a vital role in creating the consistent traffic that I see today, and below I’m going to show you exactly how I went about it.

1.) Email Is King: Bow Down to the Greatest “Social Network”

I’ve always had a saying when it comes to blogging that shocks many people when they first hear it, but I stand by it to this day…

You should be spending almost as much time in your email client as you do writing posts in order to build your blog!

It might sound crazy, but as many experienced bloggers know, email is where all of the magic happens!

Sure, social media is a great traffic generation source, and keeping in touch with people on social networks is a great place to build relationships (will get into that in a bit), but the fact remains is that the “meat” of your business dealings will take place behind the scenes, using email.

You should be as fluent with proper email writing techniques are you are writing blog posts.

Think about it: do you know the best way to approach someone for a guest blogging submission?

How about for bigger requests, like interviews, collaborations, or asking them to support your content because you think they’d be interested in it?

It might sound scary, but you are going to need to know how to talk to influencers via email and know how to capture their attention.

I used email as the absolute backbone for grabbing attention for my blog.

Generally speaking, my two most popular post types (keeping in mind that this is a music blog) are:

  1. Interviews with artists
  2. Premieres of brand new tracks

Neither of these things could be accomplished without the use of email, so no matter how many tweets I sent out, I can safely attribute to my blog breaking the “initial hump” solely by my consistent quality of content and my effective use of email.

There are a few key points that I want you to know about when it comes to email (and I’m a guy to both sends and receives a ton of email…)

  • Always keep your messages short, unless you’ve come to agreement with the recipient to talk about a topic at length
  • Keep your subject line as straightforward as possible, and use numbers so people can gauge time commitment
  • Try to reference a past experience with the person in question, even if it’s just something like “enjoyed your latest video/project/blog post”

Here’s a sample email that I’ve used to land interviews with popular musicians:

Subject Line: 3 quick interview questions

[Notice how I address what the interview is about, use a number and the word "quick" to signify a small workload, and get right to the point]

Hey (Artist Name),

Just wanted to shoot you a quick email, I’ve had your latest album on repeat lately and I’ve been featuring you a ton on my blog Sophistefunk.com, big fan of your music.

I was wondering if you had the time to answer 3 quick interview questions for me and my readers, I know they are always raving about your work and it would be my pleasure to feature some of your thoughts on my blog.

I’ve done past interviews before with [Example] and they turned out really well: http://LinkToAPastInterview

Here are the questions below, thanks again for your time and keep making great music, and I’ll keep supporting it =)

You’ll notice I advocate a 3-5 paragraph max, with no more than two sentences per paragraph.

Really, the shorter the better, this one was actually a bit longer of an example because I wanted to fit a few strategies in.

You’ll also notice that I start off with “I’m a fan”, signifying some loyalty to the person I’m reaching out to.

I also state the benefits in a direct manner: “My audience would enjoy…”, telling the person that I have an audience that they could get more exposure to.

Lastly, I post a the best example I have, one of mine is an interview with Michal Menert, which got over 180 shares in 24 hours.

 2.) Networking With Those Around You

When it comes to creating real connections and doing smart networking, most people have the right idea, but far too often I see people attempting to network only with people “above them”, and they often miss out on the great connections that are in plain sight around them.

The thing about networking with the “little guy” is that they are much more likely to reciprocate, and by showcasing their content, you are putting the spotlight on an up-and-comer, which is much more intersesting than posting about the “big guys” that everybody already know about.

This kind of networking can be really rewarding, just look at how Tom Ewer’s post on 5 Non A-List Bloggers You Should Be Following got mentioned on one of the biggest Problogger posts of the year, and how I’m mentioning it right now! :)

So, how was I able to utilize “helping the little guy” to build my blog up to 40,000 visitors, and more importantly, how can you do the same?

When it comes to running a music blog, the artists are king, since they are really the content providers for your site (although I published my thoughts and the occasional electronic music podcast, artists still rule the roost).

I began realizing that my featuring of much smaller artists had a larger relative impact, in that by featuring their music or by linking to them, I was sending them a respectable amount of traffic, but a mere blip on the radar to huge, popular artists.

By featuring a larger artist’s music, I wouldn’t even get a friendly tweet (that’s not to disrespect them, with more popularity comes less time for networking with small to medium sites like mine).

Yet, when I would feature an indepedendent or “just getting started” artist, they would almost always share the post on social networks, send me a thank you email, and much more (such as providing unreleased music, just for my site!)

Think that this strategy is exclusive to my niche?

Try replacing the word “blogger” with “artist” in the paragraphs above.

You can pursue the same strategy, reaching out to “up and comers”, by connecting with and featuring soon to be superstars in your niche.

My personal take on this strategy?

I started a weekly feature called “Follow Friday” where I would feature 7 independent artists who had submitted their tracks to me.

By pairing up these talented but not yet established artists, I would 7 separate personalities (and their growing following) sharing the same post all at once.

This not only provided a unique feature for my site, but it instantly got me more links and social shares.

Funny how that works: people with a lot to gain from you mentioning them will be grateful in return.

How to apply this to your blog: Outside of just doing a featured post or linking to other bloggers, engage with them directly!

As an example: I did an interview with Rafal Tomal (lead Copyblogger designer) & Alex Mangini (owner of Kolakube) for my marketing blog Sparring Mind.

This post got a tremendously positive response, and it was because I took two talented WordPress designers who were established, but not so known as to make them “over-discussed”, and I got them to dish out their real opinions on what kind of blog designs convert well.

I took a topic people wanted to read, found under-appreciated talents that knew what they were talking about, and put them together for one dynamite post.

What kind of interviews & collaborations could you be forming with up-and-coming bloggers in your niche?

I had to ask myself that very question for both of these projects, but for my music blog I decided to go with musicians over fellow bloggers, but the general concept remains the same: collaborating with unique talent is a great way to build rapport with talented people and also provide useful content along with it.

3.) Using Social Media Correctly (Saving Time & Sanity)

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with social media.

On one hand, it’s great as an “icebreaker”, and creating connections that have long term positive effects for your brand, as well as being a good traffic source.

On the other hand, unless you are actively pursuing these end goals, social media can be a complete waste of time, even worse, it makes you feel like you are “working on your business” when in fact you are doing a whole lot of nothing.

The thing with a “cold” email is, without recognizing you, some people might simply ignore your initial contact or be hesitant to respond back to you.

I’ve found that for my blogs, social media (especially Twitter), is fantastic for laying the groundwork for future email discussions, which are usually where the real work gets done (I’m telling you, email really is top dog).

It’s often as simple as “tagging”, by utilizing mentions on either Facebook or Twitter to let a blogger (or in my case, a musician) know that you’ve mentioned them in some way.

I’d often do this for new music premiere’s, and many artists would gladly retweet me to their large following, just as a way to say thanks.

Noted Psychology Professor Robert Cialdini (author of the popular Influence book) would describe this process as reciprocity, one of the 6 key ways to being more influential.

Giving to others often leads to them giving back, and scale is important in determining whether they will reciprocate and in what fashion.

What I mean by “scale” is how much your initial act effects them, that’s why connecting with those “around you” works so well: your impact on them is much greater.

Social media is your way of alerting them that you are doing do, and a great way to “pursue” traffic and increase the influence of your network, rather than just sitting around and waiting for these things to happen.

I use social media for two very specific purposes for my blog, one that is something general that any blog can do, and another that is very niche specific but brings me in a lot of traffic. (Hopefully they will serve as inspiration to you).

The first I briefly touched on above: I use social media as an icebreaker for larger projects.

I typically do this by starting a conversation with the a specific person’s latest tweets, and later I let them know I’d like to chat with them via email.

When people see you are interested in discussing something via email, they are generally receptive if you’ve shown yourself to be a coherent human being with good social media etiquette: that means it’s likely your email will most likely be interesting for them.

The second is simple notification, it’s something I use to practice effective guest blogging and it’s also something I use for my music blog.

On a guest post, alerting people via social media (or if you’ve established a relationship, via email) is a great way to notify them that you’ve featured something they’ve on a big blog.

They will likely reciprocate by sharing the post with their followers, since it features them and they want repay you for the mention.

With my music blog, I would instead notify all of the independent artists who I feature using Twitter mentions and Facebook tagging.

The thing is, 95% of people would then share the post, grateful that I had taken the time to feature their music.

Bloggers are likely to do the same, especially if you are connecting around you like I mentioned above (big bloggers don’t always have the time to reciprocate).

So, don’t just use social media to share links and post about your thoughts, use it to be social, notifying people and breaking the ice, which will hopefully lead to more productive discussions via email.

Over To You…

Have you ever run into a problem where guest posting wasn’t really effective for your blog?

Have you found email to be way more fundamental to your blog’s growth than social media?

Let me know in the comments below, and thank you for reading!

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Comments

  1. says

    I am trying to grow my blog at the moment and so this is really helpful information. Interestingly, despite you saying that social media can be a waste of time, I only found this post through someone retweeting it on twitter (you can thank @OrnellaGrosz for that one)

    I guess a lot has to do with the niche you are blogging in and how well you target your guest post topics to the readership of the blog hosting your guest post.
    Glen just posted Tattoos at work – Does it impact on your employment opportunities?

  2. says

    Greg, awesome post. I feel the same about email being king, but I feel the underlying principle you bring up is all about building connections. Whether you use email, social media, guest blogging, or whatever – they’re all just mediums to developing relationships that will help you spread your message.
    Srdjan just posted 100 Little Things You Can Do To Better Yourself

  3. says

    Great article Gregory!

    Of course guest posting will always stay close to my heart. It’s why I do what I do over at FreelanceBloggingLife.com after all. I do plan on getting a number of subscribers and followers on my journey and then certainly, effective email communication is going to be essential in building those relationships.

    I have to admit that at the moment I use social media solely for content syndication although I had quite an interesting start to a huge conversation about businesses serving clients. This conversation then led to email communication as 140 characters are just so frigging annoying when trying to engage in a decent conversation.

    Was a really good read, thanks!
    Ruan Oosthuizen just posted Case Study | The Birth Of A Freelance Blogger – Chapter 1 Part 1: “Fertilization”

  4. says

    Interesting post, Gregory…but just want to say your blog had something going for it that few do — a celebrity connection. It’s set up to tap the social media audiences of dozens and dozens of music artists! Which is a clever model, but won’t work for many other blog topics.

    Though I will say I use this sort of thing a bit on the business blog I do for Forbes, where I look for topics that include celebrities or major companies with big followings, and then tweet it out to them. Definitely a helpful strategy!
    Carol Tice just posted Answers to 100 Freelance Writing Questions — Including Yours

  5. says

    I think you have done a great job with your site within a few months. 40,000 readers a month is very good indeed. I had a look at your site and you have great content although I don’t know much about it, but nonetheless its good. I think guest blogging is a great idea to connect. But never thought that email could be as powerful a tool.
    Shalu Sharma just posted Types of ghosts and haunted places in India

  6. says

    Nice Gregory,

    You have done an excellent job and have done it without guest blogging.

    That is totally understandable since it doesn’t work in every niche.

    Networking will take you far when you take time to build connections :)

    Samuel from Internet Dreams
    Samuel just posted 7 Cool WordPress Plugins!

  7. says

    Good stuff Greg and I most definitely agree with the importance of emails. I liked the fact that your sample email was able to keep a great balance between sounding too formal or two casual and that is what the trick is when it comes to sending emails such as these. Anything that strays towards being too casual or formal will probably end up getting disregarded as spam and ignored.

    In addition, following up is essential as well. I hope you sent those musicians the link to the posts on your blog :)
    Jeff just posted 7 Traits of Highly Successful Bloggers

  8. says

    Hi Greg,
    You have mentioned very useful tips for increasing the popularity of blog but fantastic thing you have done is that First you have applied these tips to you blog .And it is good for our blog if we apply all of these tips to our blog.
    Through social media although you can get a ton of visitors but the problem is the most of them is not loyal.And loyal readers is the soul of your blog.
    Thanks for sharing this nice article
    Ali Zia just posted How to get free images for your blog posts

  9. says

    “How about for bigger requests, like interviews, collaborations, or asking them to support your content because you think they’d be interested in it?”

    So my question relates to the latter suggestion here, which seems to be the most difficult of the three (to me, anyways). What kind of methods do you use to promote your content to people over email without seeming overly self-promotional, which I’d imagine would turn most people off?

    You talk a lot in the post about developing connections via several methods, which I’m guessing is part of the answer, but I was just wondering if there’s more to it you could recommend to inquiring minds. Thanks!

  10. says

    I’ve found that taking the time to look at other sites and then linking to them is a great way to get reciprocal links. I let people know that I’ve spent time on their site by talking about an individual feature, post, etc. and I usually notify them by Twitter or FaceBook.
    Jim
    Jim Liston just posted Beatles Carnival 4

  11. says

    Damn Greg you freaking crushed this post man thanks for sharing.

    Had to bookmark this post man I’ll be incorporating some of your tips into my 2013 plan.

    I have to agree with you on social media it is a time trap and yes it does make you “think” you are working.

    Very inspiring post thanks again.
    Jacko just posted How to avoid Guest Posting Night Mares – pt1

  12. says

    Greg, you always use the strategies according to the niche of a blog to take it to the next level. The strategies you mentioned in above post, especially the social media one is something which works great in music niche because when you mention a big celebrity in your post and tag them in your Twitter and FB share, they’ll likely to share your post with their followers.

    I like all the above strategies. Thanks for it.
    Ehsan Ullah just posted Top 10 Bloggers To Watch In 2013